Wednesday, February 29, 2012

“Functioning Beyond Expectations…”

(*This is a summary of an original paper written with Lt-Col Karen Shakespeare)

The loss of identity can be tragic as it can be dramatic; the raw material of rip-roaring novels and films as characters such as Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne rediscover who and what they are. Their lives an edge of the seat odyssey of recovery of self, worthy of a trip to the cinema! The challenge for church, says van Gelder , is to maintain its identity through first understanding its essence, ‘what it is’ (our message), it is then that the church can understand its function, ‘what it does’ (our part in God’s mission), then helping the church fully appreciate its identity or form, ‘how it organises itself’ (as one army).In other words, to avoid an identity crisis, the order is significant, the form of church is directed by what the church does in response to what it is called to be.

The first paper in this series argued that training for a future generation needed to be secure in the essence of The Salvation Army; the function that follows should be that of developing leaders as conversant with contemporary mission and ministry as they are with the prophetic voice of The Salvation Army. The underlying question for this second article is from what direction do we approach this function? Various expectations of function offer insight to whether the development of leaders is shaped by the essence, or form of The Salvation Army?

Historical Expectations

 
In the earliest years of The Salvation Army, leadership roles were defined purely in terms of function and seniority, no formal training was offered at any level, in fact theological training was regarded with fear, ‘the only thing we care to teach as to theological questions is, that they are to be avoided as much as possible’. Training was marked by impatience, with leaders more focused upon doing mission than training for it,

This activist tendency was balanced by the more reflective perspective of Bramwell Booth, who later wrote ‘it is perhaps less in the external activities of the War that the best work of the Training Home is accomplished than in the character-building that is done there’. The essential importance of the spiritual life grew in significance. The training curriculum was set by William and Bramwell Booth who ‘saw that the stability of the movement must largely depend upon the integrity, zeal and capacity of its leaders’. From 1903 until the introduction of the two year course in 1960 the pattern of training in the UK remained constant; spiritual formation and the development of practical skills were supplemented by academic studies which remedied ‘glaring defects in their education’.

Direct Expectations

Orders and Regulations for Officers (1997) state direct priorities for the general requirements for officership. These are based on a divine call, Godly living and devotion without reserve to the purpose for which The Salvation Army exists. Orders and Regulations for Training call for the development of an appropriate education programme and practical experience which includes ‘vision kindled, character strengthened, spiritual growth enlarged and, above all, love for souls deepened’. In these official documents motivation for mission is embedded firmly in the spiritual life; training is designed to be reflective of this priority and focused upon the missional essence of the Army.

While to see the Officer’s Covenant as an expectation would be to reduce what has been of great significance to that of a contractual requirement. There is directness in perhaps what is better seen as its influence. Framed certificates on the walls of offices and quarters around the world do not serve as a tick list reminder, but more of an assurance as to the direction of God’s calling. The Officer’s Covenant remains a covenant, not a contract and in that it represents essence. Therefore within training it is important to make sense of the Officer’s Covenant for ministry sustained through conviction rather than a self will.

Indirect Expectations

Sound bites have often shaped thinking within The Salvation Army. Easily adopted and assimilated, short bursts of rhetoric have an impact on both thinking and practice. These indirect expectations can be mostly helpful. General John Gowans’ ‘save souls, grow saints, and serve suffering humanity’ is a phrase that has helpful influence. While not representing a direct expectation on training, indirect influence can be seen. This ‘Gowansism’ is a good example of how sound bites are easily adopted into current thinking shaping expectations of training in a positive manner.

Interesting snapshots of the expectations of international leadership can be seen in such events such as the International Conference of Leaders. The 2009 Spiritual Statement in particular, that International Leaders signed as an act of personal recommitment and rededication revealed helpful expectations. While remaining indirect these were generally significant in that, they either represent ‘doing’ in terms of mission, ‘being’ in the sense of spiritual and personal development and ‘thinking’ regarding the necessity of understanding. The indirect expectation upon Training College programmes is that officers should be prepared to build for God’s Kingdom here on earth, committed to living out the attributes of God in such a way that all people are brought under the reign of God as a matter of urgency. This will require leaders of maturity and integrity with an ever-deepening commitment to personal transformation in Christ, together with insight and understanding to meet the challenges of the modern world and its societal trends.

Other specific organisational developments reveal the focus and direction of recent international leadership. The establishing of The International Social Justice Commission and the renamed International College for Officers and Centre for Spiritual Life Development are two contemporary examples showing an expectation towards issues of justice, doctrine and ecclesiological distinctiveness, as well as the personal and spiritual development of leaders.

Therefore there is primacy within these indirect expectations for training to ensure that cadets are in tune with what God is doing in the world, and also with what God is doing inwardly within an individual. Colleges are called to function as places that recognize holiness of heart and action as a mandatory pre-requisite for all who would express a calling to spiritual leadership through officership in The Salvation Army.

Practical Expectations

It is of interest to reflect whether some expectations are more indicative of ascetics and structure than they are of the heartbeat of Salvationism. Important as they are, an interesting debate could be had whether the ability and skills to complete every day administrative tasks actually contribute to a framework for ministry. Clearly leaders need to show capacity in all areas, but when louder voices want more 'doing' in training, this often understood more in terms of practical administrative and compliance training than pastoral or missional engagement. It would be a mistake to dismiss these expectations, as clearly they represent an important aspect of officer training, however, equally erroneous would it be to allow such expectations of compliance to dominate how colleges function.

Any exploration of expectations would indicate that there are many voices that could speak into how colleges function. Determining the loudest voice is not, however, always easy. As we approach the function of training, we need to be able to ask “what are we looking for in a Salvation Army Officer?” “What does The Salvation Army need from its leaders?” As long as The Salvation Army needs officers whose formation is shaped by unequivocal vocation; with integrity and maturity for missional leadership there is a need to function beyond what sometimes are the loudest expectations.

Conclusion

A brief overview of the demands and expectations placed upon training reveal more a mandate for creativity than the tight leash or harness that would perhaps be expected. A journey through history reveals how, largely, a response in training was aligned to an acute awareness of opportunity and need. Orders and Regulations as a direct expectation continue to encourage the need for an approach to training that contributes to the commissioning of Officers of integrity and maturity. Indirect expectations seen through sound bites and the emphasis given in significant gatherings and developments equally point to, and give permission for the necessary response in leadership development. It is encouraging to see expectations that come from a celebration of essence. However, whether these expectations have been allowed to be the loudest voice would an interesting point for discussion.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Retaining the Essence: Training for a Future Generation

I have a few articles featured in The Officer Magazine on the Eseence Function and Form of Training and thought I'd stick them up here for those that can be bothered with rather a long winded series for a blog!

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Anyone who has lived in London during the last six to eight years will have experienced transition. This transition is from an older way that had lost its efficiency, to a new way that is recapturing the efficiency of old. This transition has been messy and inconvenient. It has had to be well planned and articulated. It started when the problems were realistically acknowledged but seen as not being insurmountable. While the old corroded and decaying Victorian water pipe works still achieve its aim, its brokenness could not be ignored. It leaked; haemorrhaging gallons of water a minute, it didn't achieve what it was created to do.

A huge engineering task has stopped and slowed traffic all over London as areas particularly affected are addressed. Huge holes have appeared in most parts of London as engineers work to bring back ‘watertight’ efficiency to the distribution of water throughout the city. In excess of 1,000 miles of pipeline by 2012!

Of particular interest is that the old pipe work is not obsolete, it may not function in the same way but its role is essential within the transition. Huge reels of plastic piping announce that the end of inconvenience is near as they are fed - I am told – largely through the older pipes. The older pipes guide and act as a conduit to the new. The pipes look different but the water tastes the same.

It is clear that 130 years after the first attempt at systematic training was made by Captain Ballington Booth, the world is different. How training colleges and programmes engage with an emerging culture and its associated opportunity of burgeoning diversity has been the focus of discussion for three years as the European Training Leaders Network examined training from the perspective of Essence, Function and Form. In looking at what it is to develop curriculum, not only for such a time as this but also for tomorrow several tensions were identified. This the first in a series of three articles reflects discussion and thought that centred upon what a creative response might look like while upholding that for which The Salvation Army was called into being.

The Tension of Context

The world that we live in is changing rapidly. From the way information is absorbed, to the way authority is responded to, the world is different. Bible colleges are not exempt from the impact of such changes as they face their own ‘issues of inertia’ in order to survive this different world, as Webber identifies, “if you graduated from seminary before 1985, you were trained to lead a church that no longer exists. Gibbs making the same point, acknowledges that the training he received over forty years ago, was ‘for a world that now no longer exists…’.

Into this kaleidoscopic culture and thought, training colleges are facing the missional challenge of preparing leaders to embrace the tension of what could be called contextual engagement. For some, these times of transition are to be anticipated and embraced; for others these are times of confusion, incredulity and resistance. How training colleges respond to such challenges and opportunities, will lay down a marker that could remain indelible for years to come.

The Tension of Communitas

Perhaps a question exists ‘how can training programmes encourage engagement with this tension of context and worldview in a creative and sustainable manner?’ The concept of Communitas borrowed from anthropology is an environment of potential and discovery, where people collide and discover one another on different levels of identity and role. It is here that diversity of opinion remains conversant in a culture of healthy overlap and shared mutuality. Undoubtedly the collision of individuality and institution will be an increasing issue for training colleges as they prepare people for ministry .

Allowing ‘individualism’ to dominate could lead to a loss of a common ground in the priorities of theology and practice. The deconstruction that individualism brings could result in unwarranted experimentation leaving the real issues of training within an era of transition unaddressed. Equally for Training Colleges to remain strongholds of 'institution' could dilute the required creativity needed to act decisively and effectively in the development of spiritual leadership. Mutual respect brings creativity where orthodoxy and deconstruction are held together in tension. Embracing the mutuality of both institution and individuality, rather than a grey and safe opt out, offers a source of creativity to train Salvation Army Officers for ministry.

The Tension of Innovation

While innovation brings excitement to the emerging pioneering leader, it can strike trepidation to the heart of others. It is recognised that in some parts of The Salvation Army world the need to pioneer new expressions of Salvation Army ministry is progressively more important. Here the need to embrace the tension of innovation is as appropriate today as it was yesterday, a loss of creativity could have a detrimental effect on the progress of missional innovation. General Erik Wickberg catches something of this pointing beyond the ‘certain things which The Salvation Army can spare’, to that which ‘The Salvation Army cannot spare’ .

Perhaps in the spirit of ‘communitas’ it is expedient to explore and to prepare leadership for that place where both the 'traditional' and 'emerging' share the same calling and essence of Salvation Army. From this place, those who see themselves as emerging could be encouraged not to lose that which they call institutional and, those who see who like to see themselves as institutional could be encouraged not to lose that which they call emerging!

The Tension of Distinctives

“The lasting marks of Salvationism will not be synonymous with methods, programmes or outward trappings. Usually these are merely a means to an end, though some have, rightly, become dear to us.” In stating this General Shaw Clifton infers that the ‘essence’ of Salvationism runs deeper, and in using the language of distinctives, he does not seem to be thinking in terms of what might be seen as the trappings of The Salvation Army. In other words understanding our identity is not a question of ‘function’ in terms of what we do, nor is it a question of ‘form’ in terms of how we organise ourselves, rather it is a question of ‘essence’. If it is not, the ‘lasting marks of Salvationism’ will be ‘synonymous with methods, programmes and outward trappings’. The implications for training colleges and training while obvious on one hand remain subtle on the other.
The essence of The Salvation Army has to be defined by its calling and place in the mission of God in the world through the redemptive work of Christ. As a model of new and full humanity, The Salvation Army holistically makes sense of this plan to ‘the whosoever’. Brengle articulates this prophetically when looking at the unmistakable essence of The Salvation Army, or what he calls ‘the badge of our discipleship’. He clearly warns of the implication of the loss of identity when 'love leaks out'

Once we are certain of our essence, then the function and form of Officer training and curriculum development follows on. Understanding The Salvation Army’s prophetic voice brings focus to the nature of Salvationism as it emanates from a grounded appreciation of God’s direction for The Salvation Army. The consequent implication for Training Colleges is how they develop curriculum that engages with this tension in such a way that encourages future leaders to be cultivators rather than merely curators of Salvationism, leaders who are as conversant with contemporary mission and ministry as they are with the prophetic voice of The Salvation Army.

Conclusion

The well worn mantra ‘The best days of The Salvation Army are ahead of us’ is as comforting as it is challenging. How officer training continues to contribute to such a belief needs to remain a key area of evaluation of any Training College programme ethos. How colleges embrace and facilitate creative tension through curriculum and attitude will remain a challenge if The Salvation Army is to continue to do what it does best, be The Salvation Army!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Buechner on Preaching...

Of course it is the sermons we preach to ourselves around the preachers sermons that are the ones that we hear most powerfully.

Frederick Buechner, F(1992) Telling Secrets. pp 85